The Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained part of a bid protest from Blue Origin that argued the Air Force’s decision to pick just two of four competing rocket companies to launch the country’s next lineup of defence satellites for the next five years is “flawed”.
Bezos’ Amazon has challenged the Pentagon’s recent decision to award a $10 billion cloud computing contract (Jedi) to Microsoft, claiming politics spoiled a fair contracting process.
Blue Origin, founded by Bezos in 2000, filed its protest in August, claiming the Air Force program “contains a number of flaws preventing offerers from intelligently preparing their proposals” and “squashes nascent competition by locking out non-selected providers for over five years”.
The total contract value for the program, called Launch Services Procurement (LSP) Phase 2, is unknown but is expected to be worth billions of dollars, assigning the Pentagon’s next 34 launches of defence satellites from 2022 to 2027 to two companies.
The GAO said the Air Force program’s “basis for the award is inconsistent with applicable procurement law and regulation” and recommended the agency change the rules of its solicitation.
If the Air Force disagrees with the GAO’s recommendation, it would be the first time an agency did so since 2015, setting the stage for the US Congress to intervene. Of the nearly 2,000 protest affirmations from the GAO since 2015, only one agency formally declined to implement GAO’s recommendations.
The Air Force has said it “does not plan to revise the terms of the LSP solicitation due to this protest”, believing its current approach is best for national security and open competition.
Congress in 2014 moved to wean the US off its dependency on rockets using Russia’s RD-180 engine for military launches before 2022 by initiating the Air Force LSP, which expects to pick the two award winners by the end of 2020.
United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp whose Atlas 5 rocket uses the RD-180, has long dominated the military launch market, lofting the bulk of US defence satellites to space since its formation in 2006.